Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Making of an Otaku, Part Two


The year anime would take its hold on me

Two things would cause that hold. The first was HBO and a certain movie. The second was--

But hang on a sec.

I need to drop back in time for a bit.

Back about two years.

My summer vacation in the early to mid-80s sometimes involved family trips to Reno, NV. We'd usually head up for a few days. Mom, Dad, my kid sister, both grandmas, and grandpa. We'd stay at the Harrah's hotel and while the adults would head for the casino, my sister and I would get $20 in quarters and be dropped off in the hotel's arcade.

There in the dimly lit world of neon wall decor and flashing CRT screens, amid the hubbub of electronic sound effects and tinny synthesized music, I would offer up the sacrifical quarter and lose myself before the banks of upright cabinets like Tempest, Galaga, Centipede, Pac-Man, Joust, Gauntlet, Dig Dug, and others.

Where am I going with this, you ask?

Hang tight. It's coming up.

1983 marked the year of the Dragon's Lair video game and I remember the shiny new machine at the hotel arcade. Front and center as you walked in. $2 a play and you had to be fleet of hand and eye to get Dirk the Daring past the dangers of Mordoc's castle to rescue the fair Princess Daphne from the evil dragon Singe.

The following year's outing to Harrah's arcade saw a follow up to Dragon's Lair. Space Ace, was also featured front and center while Dragon's Lair took up the "B" side (i.e., behind Space Ace). But the advent of the two laserdisc games paved the way for another title.

This one sat along the far left wall of the arcade, almost hidden from view. 

This one caught my eye on that trip.

A game called Cliff Hanger.

It began with the aftermath of a casino heist as two men hightailed it from the scene of the crime carrying huge bags filled with cash.

One was a lanky, dark-haired gent with sideburns sporting a black shirt, teal sport coat, and yellow tie, his eyes sparkling with mischief.

Beside him, also running full tilt, was his equally lanky companion sporting a shaggy chin curtain beard, dark fedora covering his eyes, and a cigarette perpetually dangling from the corner of his mouth.

The duo vault several wooden barricades before leaping into a waiting yellow 1957 Fiat 500, shoving the bags of loot in with them, and peeling away in triumph, leaving pursuing law enforcement in the dust.

What caught my eye were the character designs.

Yep. You guessed it.

Japanese animation style.

Like Battle of the Planets and Star Blazers, this was another one of those. And a video game, to boot. I remember the excitement coursing through me as I played and thinking: Is this a movie? A series? There's gotta be more of this out there, right? I'll find out. I'll find more. One day, I'll find more.

Now: fast forward to where we left off.


I was up early one weekday morning. Dressed for school and finished with breakfast, I had about half an hour before my ride to school came so at just before 7:30am I flopped down in front of the TV, turned it on, and began surfing channels.

I don't recall why but we'd recently switched from Showtime to HBO and at just before 7:30am, I had cleared a few channels before landing on HBO as a movie was underway. 


Curiosity piqued

A narrator's voice-over intoned something about peace and joy and hope while, onscreen, a blue-clad figure astride some strange sort of glider touched down for a landing. As the narrator went on about the forces of evil, the figure's gloved hand removes a rifle from a scabbard on the glider and shoulders it.

And I see the figure now. Low angle shot. Masked and goggled. 


Yes. A girl.

Striding toward a weird forest.

Picture fade to black.

And then a title card: MANSON INTERNATIONAL Presents.

Piano music beneath which then swells to a sweeping orchestral crescendo and the main titles fill the TV screen.

Something "explodes" inside me. Like the sudden revelation of some sacred secret. That feeling as if some blindfold had been ripped away and I could finally see and the very heavens had opened up and enfolded me in bright white rapturous joy.

I am mesmerized by what's on screen.

I sit in awed silence as this girl tangles with a huge insect-thing, zipping her glider to within inches of huge segmented legs trying to run her down, and dropping a load of light bombs that stun it. And then she is running toward the edge of a precipice, glider held above her head. She leaps off into space and executes this flip-tuck up the front of the glider, landing gracefully in its harness, and soars off between cliffsides.

I'm pretty sure I was sitting there with my mouth hanging open enough to let flies wander in.

I make it as far as the demise of the "Tomeculan" ship, the huge vessel snapping apart in a fiery explosion, when my grandmother taps me on the shoulder and says, "Your ride is here."

Son of a bitch.

Talk about bad timing.

The last thing I see is Princess Zandra wading into the middle of a fiery wreck before I turn off the TV and run out to meet my ride.


I needed more.

More of that movie.

More of her.

Later that evening, after scanning the HBO program guide booklet, I found out when it would air next.

By then we'd purchased a VCR, an RCA top-loader, and on the next air date, I had a videotape at the ready. At the appointed time, in went the tape and I hit the RECORD button.

I watched the movie in its entirety while it recorded.

When it was finished, I rewound the tape, popped it out, and lovingly placed a label I'd written in block letters: "WARRIORS OF THE WIND".

Then I put the tape back in, pressed PLAY, and watched it again.

I would routinely watch it again. Sometimes it would be every few weeks. Sometimes within a day or two.

By the time I graduated high school in 1990, I'd watched that tape so many times (at least 30 - 40 viewings) I'm surprised it hadn't broken by then.

Oh, I was hooked. Most definitely.

It--anime--had finally taken hold.

Warriors of the Wind sealed my fate and forever seared itself into my 13-year-old's consciousness. It had become my gateway.

And rabbit hole?

Not quite yet.

That was just around corner--but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Now a transformation was in the offing regarding Zandra, Lord Yuppa, and the giant Gorgons of the Toxic Jungle. But before that, something else happened.

Once again, TV led the way.

Once again I was home from school eating a bowl of cereal when I came across a Japanese animated show. Images of a ship in space, something about Macross Island and citizens for a giant battle fortress rebuilding.

Curiosity piqued.

I watched to see what was going on and met Minmei, Rick, Roy, Captain Gloval, and a what I later came to call the "bevy of bridge bunnies" led by Lisa and Claudia. There was a space battle with fighter jets and chicken-legged alien pod-things.

And then I watched with rapt attention as the ship transformed into a giant robot-looking thing and fired its wave motion--er, main guns at the bad guys.

By the time the episode ended, I was hooked.

I had to have more of this thing called Robotech.

Next day, videotape in hand at the appointed time and half an hour later, "Blitzkrieg" was mine to keep.

Robotech ran Monday to Friday according to TV Guide and I quickly learned how to program the VCR to automatically record. I taped each episode until "Force of Arms" when something made me miss the next few and then I was out of sequence and too far behind. I don't remember what it was but all I had were those 22 episodes.

I contined watching anyway, despite not recording any further. After "To The Stars," I tuned in the next day to find a new, different storyline had started. Same show but it was no longer about Rick and Lisa and company. I didn't watch all of this new storyline. Just a few episodes here and there. The same for the third story segment which had transforming motorcycles.

Following the third segement episode "Symphony of Light," I found the station carrying the show restarted again from episode 1. I realized this when, while watching, I recognized the vessel that had just exited hyperspace and hurtled toward Earth.


I remember letting out a yelp, running to the VCR, powering it on at the same time furiously hunting for a blank videotape, finally finding one and slapping it into the machine.

I missed the first two minutes.

Within a few days, I now had the first five episodes.

27 total episodes recorded over three videotapes.

By then, the first segment of the show featuring the SDF-1, Rick and Lisa and Minmei had struck a profound chord in me. Like Warriors of the Wind, it had seared itself into my consciousness.

Between the two, I had a lot of Japanese animation to occupy myself with.

And I did so in the days and weeks and months that followed.

Over and over and over and over.

Japanese animation had taken full hold.

By the time the summer of 1986 ended the following year and I was ready to start high school, I considered myself a "full-fledged" Japanimation and Robotech fan.

Little did I realize exactly what high school had in store for me....

Next time: The Making of an Otaku, Part Three, or High School, Holes, and Hallelujah.

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